Big loads: Citizens voice concerns

Transportation company presents case for shipping oversized loads on U.S. 12 at meetings in Moscow, Lewiston

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

MOSCOW – The more than 200 oversized loads that could be heading down U.S. Highway 12 starting late this autumn would be among the largest ever hauled across Idaho’s panhandle.

Crews would handle a disaster such as one of the trailers carrying processing equipment for Imperial Oil sliding into the Clearwater or Lochsa rivers by calling a company with a crane large enough to remove the rig from the waterways. The closest is in Spokane and could be on site within 10 hours.

Generally if anything goes wrong, the Idaho Transportation Department wouldn’t issue a permit for the next trip until the issue was resolved, said Jim Carpenter, an engineer with the ITD in Lewiston.

The potential of an environmental disaster was a key concern for many of about 75 people who attended a meeting Monday in Moscow. Officials from ITD and Imperial Oil, which is owned mostly by Exxon Mobile, gave a presentation, then answered questions.

Imperial Oil wants to haul Korean-made equipment to the Port of Lewiston and ship it through Idaho and Montana on U.S. Highway 12 on its way to the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada. The route is the least expensive way for the cargo to make the trip.

No one at the Moscow meeting spoke in favor of the plans. Dozens of people raised questions about issues such as the safety of getting the loads across Arrow Bridge, if Imperial Oil was covering a fair share of its costs and the economic effect.

How Lewiston’s residents feel about the oversized truck traffic is less clear. ITD and Imperial Oil hosted a meeting in Lewiston on Monday, but the format was different. The speakers stood around displays and answered questions individually.

At least some of the crowd seemed to have worries that mirrored those in Moscow.

Gary Mallory, a Lewiston resident and retired upholsterer, wondered why Imperial Oil has to move through one of the “most pristine” areas in the state. He suggested the governor, ITD employees and the state’s legislators go too. “They need to tie them all on a rope and drag them from beginning to end.”

This won’t be the first time loads of unconventional sizes have used U.S. 12. Since 2000, about 250 loads have fallen into the same permitting category as Imperial Oil’s cargo does, said Reymundo Rodriguez, commercial vehicle services manager for ITD in Boise.

The largest was 20 feet wide, 16 feet, 4 inches high, 190 feet long and weighed 437,000 pounds, Rodriguez said. Imperial Oil’s loads by comparison would be between 16 and 24 feet wide, 14 to 30 feet high, 170 to 210 feet long and weigh from 263,300 to 580,000 pounds, not counting a push truck.

ITD has invested hours into making sure the state’s infrastructure can handle the dimensions and weight of Imperial Oil’s loads, Carpenter said.

What ITD’s costs are and how much of them are being reimbursed by Imperial Oil are questions no one from ITD or Imperial Oil answered directly at the Moscow meeting.

The permit for each of the more than 200 trips would cost about $1,000, but ITD’s officials couldn’t give a tally of how much their agency has spent. Idaho code sets the fees and prevents ITD from earning a profit on the permitting process, Carpenter said.

The majority of the equipment for the Kearl Oil Sands project is being made in Canada, said Ken Johnson, Imperial Oil’s project leader for the modules in Calgary.

The exceptions are some speciality items manufactured by contractors throughout the world.

The hauling would bring $10.6 million to Idaho with most for the wages of the drivers of vehicles that would have the oversized load signs, Johnson said. Drivers of the trucks will likely be from out of state because of the specialized training required.

How businesses that suffered would be compensated was a question Johnson didn’t answer specifically.

A third open house is set for 4 to 7 p.m. today at Kooskia’s City Hall at 26 S. Main St. ITD expects to have responses to the comments it receives on the loads available by August.

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.